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MORMONS, military and McKinsey are the three Ms said to characterise the student body at Harvard Business School (HBS). Philip Delves Broughton, a British journalist, was none of the above, yet he was prepared to spend $175,000 for a chance to attend this “factory for unhappy people”. He never completely fitted in, perhaps because he largely shunned the prodigious alcohol-driven networking for which MBAs are famous, or perhaps because he did not really want to devote his life to getting rich. Yet his engaging memoir suggests he found it a positive experience.

Mr Delves Broughton did not set out to write a book about the course. Nor is this probably the book that HBS would choose to mark its 100th birthday, which it is celebrating extensively this year. Yet anyone considering enrolling will find this an insightful portrait of HBS life, with detailed accounts of case studies and slightly forced classroom fun, such as the students on the back row—the “skydecks”—who rate the performance of their peers. (“HBS had two modes, deadly serious and frat boy.”)

For those who know little about contemporary management thinking, as Mr Delves Broughton did when he arrived in 2004, he has put his class notes to good use by providing an excellent layman's guide to the big ideas of the literature. He is a fan of Michael Porter, the nearest thing management theory has to a rock star and, more surprisingly, enjoys a course on co-ordinating and managing supply chains because he “liked the dirt-under-the-fingernails quality of the subject”.

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Despite this, the author fails to secure a fabulously high-paying job that would give him the private jet which was the “benchmark for being truly rich” while he was at HBS. Yet he had only himself to blame, spending his summer writing a novel when all his classmates were doing the internships that are the essential first step to that dream job.

He graduated healthily “unintimidated by business and its practitioners”, not least by HBS itself, which had two failings in his view. First, it pushed the idea that its alumni would be equipped as leaders capable of solving all the world's problems, rather than merely doing a decent job of running a company. “Business needs to relearn its limits, and if the Harvard Business School let some air out of its own balloon, business would listen,” he grumbles. His second worry was that so many of his classmates seemed destined for careers that would leave them no space for a happy personal life. He opted for more time with his family, rather than follow in the footsteps of the “Goldman Sachs executive who came to talk about leadership and values…I just remember this look of total defeat on his face when he said how he had four ex-wives.”

This article appeared in the Books and arts section of the print edition

Case | HBS Case Collection | January 2013 (Revised April 2013)

Microsoft Server & Tools

by Marco Iansiti and Alain Serels

Abstract

In 2011, Microsoft's Server & Tools Business (STB) was large, fast growing and highly profitable on the strength of traditional packaged product lines led by the Windows Server operating system. Even as the current packaged business was performing exceptionally well, Microsoft's leadership understood that cloud based solutions would become more prevalent in the future. As the newly appointed President of STB, Satya Nadella had to find a balance between managing the current packaged business and building the cloud offering.

Keywords: technology; information technology; Computing; Enterprise Computing; Servers; Cloud Computing; Microsoft; Technology Evolution; technological innovation; disruptive innovation; Technological Innovation; Disruptive Innovation; Information Technology; Information Technology Industry;